Florence, Siena and the Tuscan Art Cities
Of course, when considering sightseeing in Tuscany, the first places to come to mind are the many art cities, mostly Florence.
This enchanting Renaissance city is one of the most known and loved for good reasons. There are so many things to see and visit that it’s almost impossible to do everything in one trip.
Florence is home to some of the most well-known museums in the world, like Galleria degli Uffizzi, where you can admire paintings from masters like Botticelli and Giotto, or Galleria dell’Accademia where, among many other masterpieces, you can see the famous Michelangelo’s David.
The city is an open-sky museum, and many of its most iconic landmarks are easily reachable within walking distance. Pontevecchio, for example, is only a five-minutes walk from the Piazza della Signoria and ten from the Duomo.
| Read all about what to visit in Florence in our dedicated guide.
Another great stop in Tuscany is Pisa: Piazza dei Miracoli and the Leaning Tower are a must, but the city has so much more to offer.
From the panoramic views of the Lungarni (river banks) offers, small bars and restaurants to the vibrant universitarian scene, Pisa is a young and fun little city to discover. Find out everything you need to know about Pisa in our article.
Only 20 km from Pisa, you have Lucca, a charming walled city that offers an authentic and unforgettable experience. Lucca is known for its fine dining, its noble style and, above all, its grand 16th-century walls that protect the whole city.
Last but most definitely not least, we suggest a stop in Siena, one of Italy's best-preserved mediaeval cities. With ancient traditions and a strong sense of pride, the old town is a must-see for anyone visiting Tuscany. Start from Piazza Del Campo, the city’ true heart, and then visit the Cathedral, which contains works by masters in European art history, including Duccio di Buoninsegna‘s famous Maestà. But even more stunning is the Cathedral’s marble mosaic inlay floor, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
Tuscan Countryside: Val d’Orcia, Chianti, Val d’Elsa, Valdera, Garfagnana
The Tuscan countryside is one the most distinguished images of the region and is very dear to the imagination of many. It is mainly identified with rolling hills, vineyards, olive groves, and many small villages to visit and discover.
| You may also like: Travelling Around Tuscany, our comprehensive guide that will help you
navigate Tuscany's diverse modes of transportation.
Although this is the general description of the Tuscan countryside, every area has its features and characteristics. For practicality, although few territories remain out of this division, there are five main areas of interest: Val d’Orcia, Chianti, Bolgheri, Valdera, and Garfagnana.
- Val d’Orcia is located in the South of Tuscany, between Siena, Mount Amiata and Umbria; it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful places in the region. Its landscapes that transmit peace embody the Tuscan countryside's most iconic image: rolling hills, farmhouses and ancient villages, cypresses and poppies sprouting from wheat fields. Among the most known products of the area, we have Montalcino wine and Pienza cheese.
Following a circular route, it is possible to take a tour of the main villages in Val d’Orcia: Starting from Montalcino, you can proceed to San Quirico d’Orcia and Pienza, from where you can easily reach Montepulciano (also famous for the wine production). On the same route, you will find Bagni di San Filippo, a natural hot spring. Another nearby thermal spring is Bagno Vignoni, from where you can reach San Quirico d’Orcia and Abbazia di Sant’Antimo.
- Chianti is located between Siena, Firenze and Arezzo, and is probably the most known region in Tuscany. This is the homeland of the even more famous Chianti red wine. Besides the many vineyards to visit in Chianti, there are many characteristic hamlets that are worth a stop.
Although the area of Chianti wine production is actually quite large, people usually identify Chianti with the Chianti Classico wine zone. This picturesque territory between Florence and Siena, includes the municipalities of Greve, Panzano, Radda, Gaiole and Castellina. These fortified hamlets saw their brightest time during the Middle Ages when, thanks to their strategic position, they played a central role in the conflict between Florence and Siena. You can find all about it in our Chianti Travel Guide.
- Val d’Elsa, which like Chianti, is between the provinces of Florence and Siena, extends along the Elsa River. Here are some of the most beautiful hamlets in the region, like San Miniato - famous for its truffles - Castelfiorentino and Certaldo, Boccaccio’s birthplace. The area also includes San Gimignano, known for its characteristic towers, and Monteriggioni, a fortified hamlet.
- Valdera is a geographic area of Pisa’s Province which consists of several municipalities, each with its characteristics and charms. The most relevant are: Lari, Palaia, Vicopisano, Lajatico, Peccioli - a vibrant cultural centre - and Buti. This area is equally suggestive as more famous areas in Tuscany (like Montalcino or Chianti), but it is significantly less touristy and, in a way, more authentic.
- Garfagnana is a big area in the Northern part of Tuscany, nestled between the Apuan Alps to the west and the main chain of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines to the east, bordering to the north with Lunigiana, to the west with Versilia. This is a very different panorama from all the previous areas, as it's a more wooded and mountainous territory.
This is the ideal place for those who like nature, outdoor activities, hiking, and hearty food or for those who are simply looking for a more relaxed place during the hot summer days. The ice-cold Garfagnana rivers - like the Lima river - are perfect for a refreshing dive.
The Tuscan Coast: Versilia, Livorno & Costa degli Etruschi, Maremma
The Tuscan coast is varied in both landscapes and customs. Going from Versilia (in the northern part) down to Maremma and Argentario, there is something for everyone.
Versilia is located on the coast of the Lucca area, amazingly framed between the Apuan Alps and the sea. Versilia’s long and deep beach, with its (sometimes exclusive) beach clubs, has attracted celebrities since the times of British poets Shelley and Byron. Places like Forte dei Marmi and Pietrasanta are still famous holiday locations for a wealthier public and some well-known people.
If you’re looking for lively nightlife, you will find numerous events and concerts in Versilia, particularly in the Summer.
On the other hand, Livorno is a very laid-back port city, where you can find a lot of Osterie that serves delicious and simple fish at affordable prices. Terrazza Mascagni and the Fortezza are the most iconic places in the city, as well as the so-called Quartiere Venezia (Venezia District). As the name suggests, this district is reminiscent of the famous Italian city, as several canals run in the area. In August, a nice festival with food, music and craft stalls called Effetto Venezia occurs here.
Livorno’s shore is very rocky, but it’s worth diving if you are a bit more adventurous.
Stretching from Livorno towards Piombino (also a port city), we have the Costa degli Etruschi. This territory was under Pisa’s jurisdiction when the city was a maritime republic, but today is in Livorno province and is also known as Maremma Livornese. The coast takes its name from the numerous Etruscan necropolises in the territory: in Populonia and Baratti you can visit many Etruscan archaeological sites.
The coast here is mainly low and sandy, and you can find some beautiful beaches: San Vincenzo, Marina di Bibbona, Marina di Castagneto Carducci, Calamoresca, and Baratti, which are all worth a visit.
Still in this region, but slightly more inland, we also have Bolgheri, famous for its red wine production and for the suggestive cypresses.
Finally, we have Maremma’s Coast, the wildest area of Tuscany. Maremma is vast and very diverse: it is known for its Etruscan and mediaeval villages, crystal-clear waters, and features some of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the region. Cala Violina, Talamone and Monte Argentario are not to be missed, as well as Saturnia Hot Spring; read all about it in our dedicated Maremma Travel Guide.
The Tuscan Arcipelago: Isola d’Elba, Isola del Giglio, and the 7 islands
Tuscan Islands may be one of the many things that comes to mind when considering Tuscany. Although Europe’s largest protected marine park, Elba is Italy’s third most crucial island (and a very well-loved one by tourists and locals).
Elba, Giglio, Giannutri, Capraia, Pianosa, Montecristo and Gorgona are the seven major islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, which offer a variety of scenarios and opportunities for different types of vacations.
- Isola d’Elba is the largest (223 km²) and most touristy of the seven, and offers a variety of stunning beaches (120 in total!) like Sansone, Fetovaia, Capobianco, and Cavoli, or more wild ones like Chiessi or Sant’Andrea. Portoferraio is the island’s chief town, and it’s a lively port city with many restaurants and shops. Other nice villages to visit are Capoliveri, Marciana (and Marciana Marina), Porto Azzurro and Cavo.
Another significant feature of the island is its mountains, perfect for hiking, among which Monte Capanne, the highest one of the archipelago, with 1090 m of height.
- Isola del Giglio (21km²) is mainly mountainous, and has a rich Mediterranean flora. The coasts develop for 28 km, alternating smooth granite cliffs with bays, coves and small sandy beaches. Three inhabited centres are the Port (the most important), Castello - a fascinating mediaeval village, and Campese. Giglio also has an important winemaking tradition, and its product of excellence is Ansonica - a white dry wine.
- Capraia is the only volcanic island of the Archipelago and is the third in size (8 km long and four wide). The coastal profile is made of virgin cliffs, interspersed with small coves, the larger of which are Cala del Porto, Porto Vecchio and La Mortola - the only sandy bay. The best way to enjoy the island and its nature is by boat. The two inhabited centres - the Port and the village - have approximately 300 residents (up to 3000 at the tourist peak).
- Pianosa - with 10,25 sq km of surface, is the fifth island of the Tuscan Archipelago. You can find evidence of human activities from the Neolithic, Eneolithic and Bronze Ages. From 1858 to 2011, it housed a penitentiary prison. Today the island can be visited (maximum 250 people per day), and it is possible to stay overnight in the only hotel on the island.
- Giannutri is a green and windy island shaped like a crescent moon, where the Mediterranean vegetation prevails over the rock. It is a tiny little paradise: 500 metres wide, more or less five kilometres long, which can be thoroughly enjoyed with a nice walk.
- L’isola di Montecristo is strictly protected, and it is one of the wildest and most inaccessible islands of the Park. Since 2019, visits to the island have been allowed for 2,000 people a year, and bathing is prohibited.
- Gorgona is the smallest of the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park (2.23 sq km), with just over 5 km of coastal development. Inhabited as early as 416 by hermit monks, the island houses a prison today, which makes it very difficult to visit.
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Only a few regions can offer such a beautiful and rich panorama as Chianti: green hills sketched by miles and miles of vineyards and olive groves, ancient walled villages, panoramic curvy roads.